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STX140 bound to a protein target as studied by X-ray crystallography
STX140 bound to a protein target as studied by X-ray crystallography
STX140 bound to a protein target as studied by X-ray crystallography
STX140 bound to a protein target as studied by X-ray crystallography
Pharmacy centenary logo
Pharmacy centenary logo

Press Release - 21 December 2007

Scientists develop new drug candidate to outflank cancer resistance

A new drug candidate first synthesized by scientists in the Medicinal Chemistry Group at the University of Bath has shown promising experimental results against breast and prostate cancer cells and tumours that are resistant to conventional hormone-based treatments.

According to research published in the British Journal of Cancer recently, these encouraging results should support the clinical evaluation of this product in humans.

Cancers such as breast and prostate cancer are often fuelled by sex hormones, such as oestrogen or testosterone. Hormone therapy for breast or prostate cancer aims to reduce the levels of these hormones in the body, ‘starving’ the cancer of these signals and halting tumour growth.

Some cancers are resistant to this treatment from the outset while many build up a resistance to these drugs over time, their growth becoming hormone-independent – such cancers are a major challenge to treat.

Now, building upon work published in a recent series of three papers in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, researchers working together with the Bath team have shown that a new drug candidate – STX140 – directly targets hormone-independent cancer cells by initiating a natural suicide process within them. They also show that STX140 starves cancer cells of essential nutrients by stopping the growth of new blood vessels inside tumours.

Around eight out of every ten men with prostate cancer will respond to hormone therapy, but many of them will become resistant to the drugs during their treatment. Although breast cancer treatments are now very effective, there are fewer treatment options for patients with hormone-independent cancer.

Dr Simon Newman, lead author of the paper based at Imperial College London, said: "Although at an early stage, the results of our study show that by targeting tiny structures within cells we can overcome the huge problem of resistance to hormone therapy. STX140 works by disrupting the action of microtubules – components of cells involved in cell division – causing the cell to stop dividing and eventually die.

"We hope that this new drug candidate, STX140, will enter clinical trials so we can test whether this treatment will be effective in humans. If the trial results reflect what our lab tests show, we could produce a treatment for cancer patients resistant to hormone therapy, hopefully with fewer side effects than conventional drugs."

The STX140 molecule was designed by researchers working in Medicinal Chemistry in the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology. For the past 15 years they have been working closely with Imperial College London in developing the drug candidate and more recently in partnership with Sterix Ltd, an affiliate of the pharmaceutical company Ipsen.

“The University of Bath has really pioneered the discovery of this new type of drug molecule for hormone-independent cancers,” said Professor Barry Potter, Head of Medicinal Chemistry, who leads the Bath team.

“Having designed the compound we have also been involved in research developing the drug candidate, so that it can eventually be used in clinical trials with patients.

“Drug development is a lengthy process, but it is exciting to see something that started out in a laboratory in Bath being made ready for this next important stage.”

Conventional treatments for hormone-independent cancers, including the taxane family of drugs, are associated with side effects that mean they can only be given every three weeks by injection into the blood stream. Not only can STX140 be given orally, it was also found to be more effective than taxanes in certain experimental models.

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of Cancer, said: "Research into how to overcome resistance to cancer drugs is vitally important, as this is a common problem that affects the treatment of many people with cancer. Building on existing drugs to create smarter targeted therapies is an exciting field of cancer research.

"Further tests are needed before we can tell if this drug can be used in people, but many thousands of patients stand to benefit from treatments that beat the mechanisms involved in resistance to cancer drugs."

This year the University celebrates the centenary of pharmacy research and teaching in Bath. Although the University of Bath is only 41 years old, the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology can trace its roots back 100 years to the Bath College of Chemistry & Pharmacy.

“Pharmacy in Bath has come a long way since the early days as a training college at the start of the 20th century and the medicinal chemistry activity here is particularly strong, with multi-million pound research funding and dynamic academic staff,” said Professor Potter.

“We are now regarded as one of the leading pharmacy and pharmacology departments in the UK, top-ranked by both The Guardian and The Times newspapers.

“We are also at the cutting edge of research, having been awarded the highest possible 5*A rating in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise.

“This present work is an example of the Department’s cutting-edge portfolio of research.”

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About The British Journal of Cancer


The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/